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Monday, August 22, 2011

"Faith Dressed In Work Clothes" - (08/21/11)

James 2:11-17 (Message #5 in James Series)
August 21, 2011

            “Clothes make the man.”  I’m sure this must be the favorite quotation of men’s tailors and haberdashers around the world.  It was originally coined by Mark Twain many years ago when he made the astute observation, Clothes make the man.  Naked people have little or no influence on society.”  While he was right, of course, the quote obviously refers to the fact that when people see a person who is well-dressed, they assume that person is a professional—intelligent, capable, and moving up in life.  Therefore, employment counselors will tell you that you should dress the way you want to be perceived.  If you dress like the president of a Fortune 500 company, people will see your potential and take you more seriously, getting you closer to one day achieving your goal.  On the other hand, if you show up dressed in raggedy clothes, with messy hair, and 10 lbs. of piercings, people will conclude you probably won’t take the job seriously and will never achieve much in life, so they will hire someone who looks more promising.
            We all understand the concept of dressing correctly for the job at hand.  There is such a thing as “appropriate dress” for every occasion.  If I attend the opera I should be dressed in a suit, with white shirt and tie.  If I am a steel worker I should show up for work with steel-toed boots, leather gloves, and a hard-hat, not flip-flops, Bermuda shorts, and a Hawaiian aloha shirt.  If I am a police officer I should show up at roll call in my uniform, wearing my tactical vest, and with my weapons cleaned and ready.

            The dictionary defines the words faith, love, hope, mercy, and service as nouns—things, objects.  Grammatically speaking that is correct.  However, theologically speaking these things are all verbal in concept—words of action.  Why do I say that?  Because the Bible makes it clear that…
  • Faith unapplied is not faith at all
  • Love unshared is not genuine love
  • Hope left unfocused and free-floating is useless
  • Mercy not extended in not real mercy
  • Service left undone is of no value
            These things all involve work and effort.  They are not emotions.  They are not mere concepts or mental constructs.  They are words of action and accomplishment.
            In our text for today James takes up one of the major themes of his letter, “Faith Dressed in Work Clothes.”  He tells us that faith dressed in a pretty outfit just so that it will look nice and draw attention at church is not real faith, but rather a counterfeit faith, a cheap knockoff of the real thing.

Verse 11: For He who said, “DO NOT COMMIT ADULTERY,” also said, “DO NOT COMMIT MURDER.”  Now if you do not commit adultery, but do commit murder, you have become a transgressor of the law.
  • James here is obviously referring to the Ten Commandments given to Moses as part of the Law revealed to him at Mt. Sinai.  He is pointing his readers to Exodus 20:13-14, to the 6th and 7th Commandments.
  • Also, you will notice that this verse is a continuation of the context that we looked at last week, where James has been talking about the fact that Christ’s “royal law” forbids showing favoritism or partiality.  To do so is sin and is a transgression of the law (vs. 9).  While some may think this is a small matter, James says in verse 10: “For whoever keeps the whole law and yet stumbles in one point, he has become guilty of all.”
  • You see, it’s important to remember that these are God’s Laws, not man’s.  Moses didn’t make them up; God handed them down.  These are sins that God takes very seriously.  Moreover, these laws are meant by God to be taken as a whole, not individually.  They all hang together, interwoven, like the threads in a tapestry.  If you break one you have broken them all.  The murderer cannot comfort himself by saying, “Yes, I murdered someone, but at least I didn’t commit adultery.”  And the adulterer cannot defend himself by saying, “OK, so I cheated on my wife, but lighten up.  It’s not like I killed someone!”
  • James says that under God’s system of reckoning, if we break one of God’s rules, we have broken them all and stand guilty as transgressors, whether we’ve broken one or all ten.

Verse 12: So speak and so act [toward the poor] as those who are to be judged by the law of liberty.  
  • Here James gives us his summary exhortation.  He points out that the Law of Moses has no liberty.  It has no wiggle room.  If you break one little part you’ve broken it all.  You are much better off to submit yourself to the “law of liberty” that Christ announced.  It contains grace and mercy as well as justice and holiness.

Verse 13: For judgment will be merciless to one who has shown no mercy; [but] mercy triumphs over judgment.
  • This verse is a warning.  James is saying that if you want to go with the Law per se, then you will be judged by the same law you use to judge others.  And brother, you won’t like where that takes you!  If you go the route of self-righteously judging others then just know that your judgment will be without mercy, too.  You’ll get what you dish out.  Jesus went into this teaching in detail in Matthew 18:21-35.
  • But I love the second half of this verse: “…[but] mercy triumphs over judgment.”  Now that is Good News!  We can see the truth of this in the way God deals with us.  We deserve His wrath and His strict judgment.  However, He has chosen to deal with us in mercy.  For those who believe in Him for their salvation, His mercy forestalls His judgment.  His mercy trumps the demand for judgment in those who turn to Him.

Verse 14: What use is it, my brethren, if someone says he has faith but he has no works?  Can that [kind of] faith save him?
  • The two questions that James poses here both call for a resounding, “NO!”  “THAT FAITH” cannot save him!  For you see, faith that is barren, that has no accompanying evidence, no credentials, no fruit, is not genuine saving faith, but merely words.  A false faith, that is barren and dead, cannot save anyone.  James is not talking here about works as a means of salvation, but rather, works that proceed from faith, the ethical outworking of true godliness and especially the work of “loving your neighbor” spoken of up in verse 8.  FAITH WORKS you see.
  • There are so-called Bible “scholars” who like to claim that Paul’s Letter to the Romans is a direct contradiction to what James says here.  They will try and convince you that the messages of these two writers were diametrically opposed—that Paul promoted salvation by faith alone, apart from works, and that James defended salvation by works added to faith.  These skeptics are what I like to call wrong!  Paul and James were perfectly agreed on the doctrine of salvation—that it is by grace, through faith, not as a result of good works.  Moreover, they both believed the same thing about the role of good works—that they are the fruit of salvation; that genuinely saved people will obey and serve God, and will produce good works for God’s glory as a result of their new life.
  • Even that hero of church history, Martin Luther, got it wrong.  He had no use for the Book of James because he thought that it contradicted Romans.  What he failed to understand is that: (1) James was not refuting Paul’s doctrine of justification by faith, but rather a perversion of it.  And (2) that Paul and James used the words “works” and “justification” in different senses and in different contexts.
  • But here in verse 14 James is obviously talking about professions, claims of godliness.  James is looking at what people say about their faith.  In this case he’s talking about those who claim to know God, to love God, to believe in God, to serve God, etc.  They are like the approximately 78% of Americans who claim to be “Christians” yet most of whom never darken the door of any church, ever; who don’t read their Bibles; and who give off little or no evidence of the indwelling Holy Spirit.  [By the way, that number is down from 91% who in 1948 identified themselves as some kind of “Christian.”]
  • To profess to be a “Christian” means that you have placed you complete faith and trust in Jesus Christ to be your Savior and Lord; that you are truly a Christ-follower, a Christ-obeyer, not merely a Christ-admirer. 

Verses 15-16: If a brother or sister is without clothing and in need of daily food, 16 and one of you says to them, “Go in peace, be warmed and be filled,” and yet you do not give them what is necessary for their body, what use is that?
  • “If a brother or sister…”  James here is speaking about the plight of other Christians.  Now we certainly have a Christian obligation to show kindness and mercy towards unbelievers, but here James is talking about how we should treat those of the household of faith, fellow Christians.
  • He says that if you see that your brother is lacking is clothes and food and all you can come up with is a pat on the back and a bunch of empty words and pious platitudes about “Jehovah-Jireh, God will provide,” then you are not a real Christian and moreover, you know nothing of genuine Christian charity.  “Go in peace!  Be warmed and be filled!  God bless you!”  Phooey!
  • His question hangs in the air: “What use is that?”  The obvious answer?  “NO USE WHATSOEVER!”

Verse 17: Even so faith, if it has no works, is dead, being by itself.
  • James says that this kind of so-called “faith” is not merely useless or unacceptable, it is DEAD!  It is not real faith.  It is not faith of THE FAITH.  This kind of faith is of no use to anyone.  It merely serves to prove that you have never truly experienced the life-giving, transforming new birth the Jesus offered to Nicodemus in John 3.  It merely shows that you need to get saved!
  • “…being by itself.”  Faith is not a loner.  It does not live in solitary confinement.  It is not a theoretical virtue that can be held up and examined in isolation.  First of all, faith always has an object.  There is no such thing as free-floating faith, as in, “I’m a person of faith.”  Faith must be applied in a direction, toward an object.  Of course, the Bible says that the only worthy object of man’s faith is Christ Himself.  Everything else is unworthy and will eventually prove to be nothing more than shifting sand.  Secondly, genuine biblical faith always bears fruit.  It is never barren.  Therefore, as in the case put forth up in verse 14 where someone claims to have saving faith, yet has no fruit to show for it, we have every right to conclude that the person in fact does not have saving faith and is therefore still an unsaved unbeliever.
            Does this sound harsh?  Does this sound judgmental?  Don’t blame me; take it up with James and Jesus!  I’m just a simple Bible preacher.  I don’t make this stuff up.
            As I mentioned a few moments ago, this is a warning passage.  In it James is challenging us who claim to be “Christians” to take a long hard look at our lives and at our profession of faith to see if there is any genuine evidence to back up who we claim to be.  Real faith, biblical faith, saving faith works and produces good works—not to try and make ourselves worthy of salvation, but because of the salvation that has already occurred.
            I can claim to be a mallard duck.  However, if I don’t have a big orange beak, shiny colorful feathers, webbed-feet and a girlfriend who lays eggs then I’m probably not a real mallard.  Likewise, if I claim to know Jesus, to be a Jesus-follower, and yet I have none of the personal character traits of Jesus, I don’t do Jesus things, I don’t like to hang out with Jesus people, and I don’t produce any Jesus type fruit and good-works, then I’m probably fooling myself.
            Let me ask you today, if being a Christian were against the law and you were hauled in to court and brought up on charges of being a disciple of Jesus, would there be enough evidence in your life to convict you?  If not, you’d better back up the truck and take a hard look at who you really are, not just who you claim to be.

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About Me

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Since 1994 I have been the pastor of Sellwood Baptist Church in Portland, OR. Before that I was a missionary in South Brazil for many years. Until just recently I have also served as a police chaplain with the Portland Police Bureau. Now, however, God has a new assignment for us. My wife and I have been appointed with WorldVenture and are preparing to move to Ireland to help plant a new church in Sligo, a small city in NW Ireland. I'm married to Ramel, a crazy, beautiful redhead that I love more than life itself. We have three great kids, Jonathan, Chris, and Simoni who have given us ten wonderful grandchildren. We are truly blessed.

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